Space: NASA discovers a mysterious wandering planet

NASA discovers a mysterious wandering planet

Published today at 1:53 p.m.

Not content with relaying climate studies, NASA also observes space. And among scientists, some specialists have become hunters ofexoplanets. That is to say, planets orbiting stars other than the sun. And which are therefore located outside our solar system. Detected only since the 1990s, these exoplanets are now listed and their number continues to grow.

As of February 1, it stood at 5,307 for 3,910 planetary systems. For the moment, the observation radius is quite close (or short), since they are all located less than 400 light years from the solar system.

By extrapolation, there should be at least one hundred billion in our galaxy. Dizzying, as can be the size of the universe. While nearly ten thousand potential exoplanets are awaiting confirmation, we have just located one that is not quite like the others.

It is a “floating” or rather wandering planet. As it is not attached to any sun and does not orbit around a star, it is a priori invisible to telescopes. The object was only discovered through the careful analysis of 1.3 million light curves. And it took years to prove that it was indeed an exoplanet.

“Microlensing” to spot planets

Unlike classical planets, “floating” planets wander interstellar space without gravitational attachment to a star. Which may seem absurd. And in any case intrigues researchers, since these mysterious objects completely call into question the understanding of planetary systems.

To complicate matters, these exoplanets are cold and virtually impossible to spot. To get around this difficulty, we use a method based on the technology of “microlensing“. This consists of observing the deformations of space-time caused by exoplanets, quasars or other interstellar objects.

NASA compares them to the bump that a bowling ball makes when, for example, placed on a trampoline type object. Concretely, when a planet passes in front of a star, its gravity will slightly act on the dispersion of the star’s light. Several stellar bodies have been discovered in this way. We were even able to estimate their mass. That of this new exoplanet is quite high, around ten times higher than that of Earth.

To have more precise information, a telescope should be launched in the coming years. Her name? Novel Nancy Grace, named after the woman who invented the Hubble Space Telescope. This will be equipped with specialized instruments to explore the planets using gravitational microlensing.

Pascal Gavillet has been a journalist in the cultural section since 1992. He mainly deals with cinema, but he also writes on other fields. Especially science. As such, he is also a mathematician.More informations @PascalGavillet

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